* Content Warning: This article contains content regarding pregnancy and infant loss. *
The month of October makes space to discuss something very difficult, something often kept quiet. Baby Loss. Miscarriage. Stillbirth.
The silence is often kept because a heart is broken and because those surrounding the family do not know how to talk about the loss. This is not an easy subject to talk about whether you have experienced a loss of your own, or know someone who has. However, as with any grief, sometimes the healing can truly occur by talking and listening to one another.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. But the actual number is likely higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn’t realize she’s pregnant.
Helping to shed some light on the topic of miscarriage and to illustrate how Ascension Wisconsin supports women and families in this delicate time, we’ve interviewed Dr. Patricia Heywood, a Maternal Fetal Medicine provider, and Erin McArdle, a Labor and Delivery Nurse and Regional Director of Women’s Services. Also supporting this article is Ascension’s Director of Spiritual Care, Mary Salm (although not part of the interview, Mary helped review the final article and added points of clarification from her personal experience working closely with families who have experienced pregnancy or child loss inside the Ascension WI spiritual care ministry).
Infant & Pregnancy Loss Q&A
Q – You hear over and over again, the number one question when a woman learns she has miscarried is: “what did I do wrong?” – how do you address that?
Dr. Heywood: The first thing I like to share is that she has done nothing wrong, and couldn’t have done anything differently. Pregnancies are very well protected, especially early on. The vast majority of first trimester miscarriages are due to genetic abnormalities, which are out of our control.
Q – How likely is it that once one miscarriage has occurred that another will happen?
Dr. Heywood: This is usually the second question most women ask. This is difficult to predict. We can address any medical issues the patient may have (like diabetes, for example). With multiple miscarriages, we can engage with a Genetic Counselor to look for those issues as a possible contributor. If the pregnancy loss occurs within the 2nd or 3rd trimester, we look at the option of an autopsy and performing extra genetic testing.
Q – What are resources available to the moms and partners who experience a loss at Ascension?
Erin: We have a Perinatal Loss Coordinator at most of our Labor and Delivery sites. These individuals are dedicated to the mom and family to answer questions and to be there for support. The perinatal coordinator can help a family navigate the difficult path which may include experiencing a miscarriage or fetal loss. Ascension also offers spiritual services, someone to pray with, someone to explore spiritual questions with (for example, Why did this happen? Where is God in all of this?) and someone to hold your hand and grieve together. For babies that have passed later in the pregnancy, we have sites that offer Cuddle Cots which allow families extra time with their child. Our nurses will bathe and clothe the babies, provide photographs and footprints. In addition, if the little one has hair, we will give the parents some as a memento to keep memories alive. The whole experience can be very surreal; having these mementos to look back on can be comforting as you remember this precious life that was gone too soon. Finally – we also offer families listings of funeral homes and cemeteries throughout the region.
Q – After leaving the clinic or hospital, what recommendations do you have for trying to stay positive?
Dr. Heywood: The first thing to always keep in mind is that you are not alone. Coping with the loss, worries about difficulties with conceiving, telling your family, and lots of other factors can be overwhelming. There are support groups, composed of women and men going through the exact same process. Also – it is very normal to have strong grief reactions after the fact – what we call “anniversary reactions” – for example, on the same date you learned of the loss, or in the next pregnancy at the same gestational age, or on the date you were expected to deliver. We all need to honor these normal reactions and need to honor the life that once was; whether that be through talking with our loved ones, especially our partners, taking out pictures or mementos, or discussing future dreams of growing our family. It is really important for partners to get involved and be a part of the grieving process. Partners may inadvertently think they have to be strong for their loved one or feel they shouldn’t express their feelings of sadness as they don’t want to ‘add to their loved one’s sorrow.’ However, they also need an opportunity to release their feelings of sadness. In OB, we are in a unique position to be with families in their happiest moments, but also their saddest. Both Erin and I believe – it is our privilege and honor to hold hands and cry together with families…we share in their grief while providing safe and caring support for them. There are many stories of hope, too – families who have a future, healthy full term baby. We are here for all of it!
If you or someone you love would like to obtain further information on perinatal loss, please visit: https://nationalshare.org/